The Arizona Coyotes entered Thursday night’s contest against the New York Rangers having dropped five straight games, and starting netminder Mike Smith had a front seat for each of those losses. That said, it’d be hard to blame Smith for any of the defeats.
Over the course of those five losses, the Coyotes had produced just eight goals, getting doubled up three times in five outings. The defense had been picked apart, allowing 160 shots against, killing penalties at a sub-55 percent rate and leaving Smith out to dry on occasion. Yet somehow, Smith managed to help keep the Coyotes in at least three of those losses.
With that in mind, it’s a bit easier to understand why Smith flipped his lid late in the Coyotes’ 6-3 defeat at the hands of the Rangers.
Having stopped 26 of the 30 shots he faced throughout the bulk of the contest, Smith watched helplessly from the bench as the Coyotes gave up an empty-net goal that pushed New York’s lead to 5-3 with mere seconds left on the clock. He was again about to take a loss, but he couldn’t have imagined he would surrender another goal.
Alas, with Smith back in the crease to close out the dying seconds, the Rangers, who had a late-game power play after Oliver Ekman-Larsson took an unsportsmanlike misconduct penalty, picked apart the Coyotes’ defense one final time, creating a 2-on-1 situation deep in the zone that led to Matt Puempel tipping home his third of the game to complete the hat trick. Smith, uh, didn’t take it too well:
If you’re trying to grasp just how hard Smith swung his stick at the pipe on the first hack, watch his skates. He nearly topples over putting so much force into the blow. And then he finishes the job on his twig with the second swing, snapping his stick clean in half.
Smith’s frustration likely goes beyond the loss in the single game, or even the six-game losing streak that both he and the Coyotes are now currently riding.
Smith has been turning in quite a bounce back season, despite what his record says. Of the 34 goaltenders who have played at least 750 minutes at 5-on-5, Smith is right alongside Pittsburgh Penguins rookie Matt Murray and Dallas Stars starter Antti Niemi with a .934 save percentage, and Smith is only a fraction out of a percent from cracking the top 10 in the league in that regard. However, he boasts a goals-against average that is perilously close to hitting 3.00. Much of that can be blamed on the help he’s not getting defensively.
In fact, if this keeps up, Smith will be one of only two starting goaltenders in recorded history to finish a season with an all-strengths save percentage at or above .920 with a goals-against average above 2.80. The other? Dominik Hasek in 1995-96.
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